How was the first bit of the U.S./Holocaust documentary?

September 19, 2022 • 7:15 am

Yesterday I noted that the new documentary directed by Ken Burns, Lynne Nozick, and Sarah Botstein, “The Holocaust and the U.S.” had its first airing on PBS last night (there will be three two-hour presentations).  There were a fair number of pre-show comments, some of them degenerating into an argument about the U.S.’s departure from Afghanistan, for crying out loud!

I missed the show because of my ridiculously early bedtime, mandated by the insomnia doc, and because someone with a sleep disorder is not supposed to watch the tube before bed. But I will watch it when they put it online on September 18. Meanwhile, I am sleeping better now, at the price of giving up wine with dinner. That will resume when I’m better.

In the meantime, how was the show? (The first episode is called “The Golden Door”, covering from the beginning to 1938.)

To comment below, you have to have watched the show! I just discovered that you (or perhaps only those in Chicago) can watch the first episode, “The Golden Door”, free by clicking on the screenshot below. B (After September 18, you can watch all the episodes free online, but only for a few days.)

The photo, from the beginning of the episode, shows the Frank family, with Anne on the left, Margot on the right, and their mother Edith in the middle. The photo was snapped by Otto Frank, the only one who survived the war.

Highlights from Bill Maher’s latest “Real Time” show

June 26, 2022 • 9:15 am

Watch quickly before HBO pulls these clips from Youtube!

Reader Paul called my attention to the second clip below from the latest Bill Maher’s “Real Time” show, but I found two other short clips on YouTube. His guests this week were three writers: Andrew Sullivan, Christine Emba, and Katie Herzog.

Maher is often damned by “progressive” bloggers as an “alt-Righter”, but they simply hate the fact that he makes fun of the progressive Left. (Yes, he did flirt with anti-vaxism, but that just gave him another reason to dislike him.) But if you look at the videos, especially the ending of the second one, you’ll see that he’s no conservative, but a liberal of the classical stripe. Do progressives lack a sense of humor? Are there any “progressive Leftist” comedians? (I can’t think of any.) The comedians who liberals really liked, like Dave Chapelle, Sarah Silverman, Lenny Bruce, and George Carlin, were known for taking the mickey out of liberal hypocrisy. Of course the Right is also fair game these days, as the clips below show.

And I often find Maher very funny. His delivery, a combination of deadpan and laughing at his own jokes, is unique. Even if you don’t like him, you have to admit that there’s nobody besides Chapelle, who has a very different style, who fills Maher’s niche.

Here’s his 2.5-minute opening monologue with a dig at the end at Democrats who couldn’t bear to vote for Hillary Clinton. (I did, though I voted for Bernie in the primary.)

This is a good 8.5-minute bit in which Maher points out how Americans resent it when they don’t have “their own lawyer”—someone who represents their interests. Some Democratic policies, like forgiving student loan debt, get it in the neck. (The fourth “lawyer billboard” is a hoot!) Finally, at 7:55, he gets serious about trying to dump Trump.

Six minutes of discussion about Roe v. Wade and the divisions within America. Katie Herzog mourns the fact that there’s “no center” in American politics, Sullivan makes a few remarks suggesting that the states and not the courts should decide the issue of abortion, which is what the Supreme Court just ruled.

And eight minutes of overtime. Herzog agrees with me that Biden overstepped his bounds by banning Jool e-cigarettes and trying to eliminate all nicotine from tobacco. As she says, “If anything turns me into a libertarian, it will be this particular issue.”  This bit isn’t as interesting as the videos above, but I add it for completion.

Don’t forget the January 6 hearings tonight

June 9, 2022 • 4:00 pm

At last some of the Congressional hearings on the January 6 insurrection will be televised—tonight starting at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. All the major networks will carry them.

For a quick guide to what you can expect, see this article in the NYT (click below):

An excerpt:

The New York Times will provide live video of the hearing at nytimes.com along with live discussion and analysis from Times reporters. All of the major broadcast networks plan to carry the hearing live, as do the major cable news networks, with the exception of Fox News.

What will the hearing cover?

Committee leaders have indicated that the focus on Thursday will be on presenting a complete timeline of the riot, beginning with the 2020 election and extending through the riot itself and its aftermath.

Democrats involved in the investigation have said the evidence they present will connect the dots between the monthslong campaign that President Donald J. Trump and his allies waged to discredit the outcome of the election and the effort by rioters on Jan. 6 to disrupt the congressional certification of the results.

The hearing is also likely to highlight the involvement of the Proud Boys, the far-right group whose members played a critical role in the storming of the Capitol. The committee said the witnesses at the session would include Nick Quested, a documentary filmmaker who was embedded with the group in the run-up to Jan. 6, and Caroline Edwards, a Capitol Police officer who was injured at the start of the violence.

There will be more hearings to come, with the next announced one on Monday at 10 a.m. They might be boring, but I expect moments of fireworks.

“Seinfeld” in the cancellation crosshairs

November 15, 2021 • 11:15 am

I’ve subscribed to The Righting, a daily news summary of right-wing articles compiled by leftists. Perhaps that explains why the daily list of links shows how bull-goose loony much of the Right is, even when the articles come from the more respectable right-wing sites, like the National Review.  The articles are hilarious in their denunciations of the Left (they are of course anti-vax and hate Biden), but even a blind pig can find an acorn—an acorn which you’d only find on conservative sites. One of these is their singling out of egregious wokeness.

This one, from of all places a right-wing entertainment site (Hollywood in Toto: “The Right Take on Entertainment”), describes the attacks on the television comedy “Seinfeld” for being racist, sexist, able-ist, and so on. The article links to a lot of criticism of the show.

Now I never watched “Seinfeld” much; for some reason the fact that nothing ever happened on the show bored me, but there were some episodes I found hilarious, like “The Chicken Roaster,” in which Kramer gets hooked on Kenny Rogers’ Roasters, a chicken takeout across the street from their apartment. But its flashing sign, which makes Kramer’s apartment into a nightmare of disco proportions drives him nuts. And the funniest episode I ever saw was the famous “Soup Nazi” one, based on a real soup-vending curmudgeon in New York City.

I never paid much attention to the show’s lack of “political correctness”, as it was called at the time, but now people are sniffing out infelicities in very old t.v. shows and calling them out. Back then, for instance, “Soup Nazi” was inoffensive; now it would be an insult to all brash people, or seen as a diminution of Nazism. That trend is what the article below is about (click on screenshot to read).

An excerpt:

It’s only one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, a comedy that sparks new fans whenever it shifts to a fresh platform. It did it again earlier this year when Netflix began airing the show’s nine sublime seasons.

And, for at least six years, the woke mob has insisted we shouldn’t laugh along with Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer.

Take this 2015 article, which declares one of TV’s supreme sitcoms is now too “racist” and “sexist” to enjoy. The article sprang to life after Seinfeld admitted he’d never play a college gig because students are too easily offended.

If you stick a thumb in the woke mob’s eye they quickly retaliate.

Still, the article didn’t inspire a movement. Nor did subsequent pieces hammering similar themes. The far-Left Bustle attacked singular jokes from the classic show, 13 in total, as being offensive with its 2018 screed.

The trend continued in 2020, with Cheat Sheet bemoaning that Seinfeld refused to apologize for the show’s jokes. The woke mob loves apologies. They’re rarely accepted, of course.

The Hostage Apology is akin to Struggle Session lite.

The far-left Screen Rant decided, apparently, that 2021 is the year to kickstart “Seinfeld’s” cancelation. Back in May the site ran an op-ed taking down George for his problematic behavior.

His antics “haven’t aged well,” we’re told. Screen Rant wants every character in a sitcom to behave like a gentleman, thus negating all of George’s broad comic tics.

Looper attempted its own cancellation essay this year, all the while admitting how foolish such a measure is.

Sure, Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer — and on a meta level, Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld and everyone else behind the “Seinfeld” scenes — would undoubtedly laugh at the notion of an article like this, offering a snarky remark and a reminder that the best humor (and an invaluable life necessity) comes from laughing at things society takes seriously. Nevertheless, it’s hard to dispute — these “Seinfeld” moments have not aged well.

Screen Rant’s latest broadside against “Seinfeld?” Seinfeld: 10 Things About Jerry That Have Aged Poorly

You can read the articles (I’ll put three examples below from the Screen Rant article and three from another piece), but it was my impression that Seinfeld’s comedy was meant to be edgy by taking on topics and reactions that people often have, but keep to themselves. In other words, it airs publicly what people are thinking privately, but were allowed to air in the private group of Jerry’s friends. Three examples from Screen Rant.

Three examples from the Bustle article, “These 13 jokes from ‘Seinfeld’ are actually super offensive“:

Well, I didn’t think they’d find this episode “super-offensive”, but I was wrong.

I don’t find what’s below particularly racist, for some men are attracted to Asian women. Others are attracted to black women, or to Hispanic women. I’ve never heard this as characterized as “saying you like everyone in a race”. Rather, what some men find attractive are the features of women from some ethnic group, and not all women or all people.

This isn’t “racist” unless somehow you stereotype the women by expecting them to all behave in a defined and similar way.  But the relationships I know of involving white men and nonwhite women have all been pretty much like intra-racial relationships, with the same affection and closeness. The women are, after all, human beings.

Many of the ten jokes and incidents from the Bustle article, as I said, deal with people’s feelings that they’re not comfortable making public except to one’s very good friends. In other words, they highlight life as it is, warts and all. No character on Seinfeld is portrayed as a saint: they all have their flaws, obsessions, and biases.

This kind of humor was the metier of people like Lenny Bruce, and now of Dave Chappelle, but it doesn’t play well with the Woke. As we know from Titania McGrath—whose sarcastic tweets get mistaken for genuinely “progressive’ views”—one characteristic of Wokeness is that it lacks a sense of humor.

Seinfeld and other comedians have said that they’ll no longer do standup at colleges and universities, and it’s not hard to see why. Here’s Seinfeld on “political correctness”.

 

“The Chair”: A miniseries about academia

September 15, 2021 • 12:15 pm

Matthew was recently watching the new Netflix series “The Chair“, whose first season comprises six 30-minute episodes.  It’s basically “ER” set in a college—the fictional Pembroke University in New England.

Sandra Oh—the one character who’s very well acted plays Ji-Yoon Kim, the new chair of Pembroke’s English department, and has to face the usual travails of a chair: how to choose a distinguished speaker, dealing with faculty who don’t teach well, schmoozing the dean, listening to a colleague kvetch about poor office space, and so on. The plot is complicated by the fact that her ex-husband (Bill Dobson, played by Jay Duplass) is a professor in her department, is acting erratically since his second wife died, and he wants to reunite with Kim.

They’ve inserted some woke stuff to create drama, the main trope being Dobson’s quick Hitler salute when he mentions Hitler in a class. That, of course sets off a huge fracas.

I’ve watched the first three episodes (I guess there will be a second season), and I’ve pretty much had it. While Oh’s acting is good, much of the other actors overdo it, and the drama—sustaining a Hitler salute over the entire series (don’t read the Wikipedia summary if you want to watch it), is boring. I’m giving up. Matthew thought it was okay, but he’s recommended that I watch “The Wire” instead, and that’s what I’m going to do. It’s a much bigger investment—60 one-hour episodes—but it’s received universal critical acclaim.

In the meantime, you can see the official trailer for the “The Chair” below:

 

Sullivan on Maher on wokeness

August 21, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Reader Paul sent me a 5-minute segment of Andrew Sullivan’s appearance on Bill Maher’s show last night, adding these comments:

He was the initial one-on-one interviewee and they mostly talked about Wokeism. Maher pointed out that this was Sullivan’s 27th appearance on the show, the most of any guest.

In the group discussion part of the show, Maher’s anti-vaxish opinion reared its ugly head. He mentions that he’s vaccinated and “did it for the team”, hinting that he wouldn’t have taken it otherwise. Then he says he won’t be getting the booster. One of the guests was someone who consulted on COVID matters for the US military. I was happy that he pushed back hard against Maher and that Maher seemed to indicate that he was on thin ice. I suspect that Maher’s going to get an earful on Twitter today.

In the short segment, Maher heaps praise on Sullivan for his common sense, noting that their perspectives generally agree. They then discuss Andrew’s move to Substack, and Andrew admits (I don’t remember this from before) that he was indeed fired from New York Magazine (I think it was because Sullivan was going to criticize the violence and looting of some of the Black Lives Matter protestors). Andrew’s own criticism of the pro-woke mindset of magazines (including all that have “New York” in the title) is pretty good.

Here’s part of Maher’s monologue, largely about the downside of smartphone. Well, they certainly have made people nastier as well as reduced the reading of books as well as people’s attention span in general.

Sarah Silverman hosts Jimmy Kimmel’s show, disses podcasting

August 19, 2021 • 12:45 pm

Reader Enrico told me that Sarah Silverman hosted Jimmy Kimmel’s show twice this week (they used to be a couple).  Even though I’m no longer as smitten with Sarah after I discovered that she endorses BDS, I still had to watch the four clips on YouTube. Here’s one of them.

The one below was fairly good, though I thought the segment with Louis Virtel was pretty weak and not funny at all. But I greatly enjoyed “the greatest plague facing our nation,” which turns out to be PODCASTING. It begins at 8:20. (Siverman does, by the way, have her own podcast!)

It does seem that everyone who used to write prose (with the exceptions of Dawkins and Pinker) has turned to podcasting, and, as you know, I can’t listen to them. They go on for hours, and yes, I know that some of them are absorbing. But the turn to podcasting has to reflect things like people’s increasing need to multitask rather than read (which you can’t do while cooking), itself perhaps a result of Internet-lowered attention span, and maybe to the fact that it’s simply easier to do a podcast, especially if it involves a conversation, than to write something substantive.

Sarah’s right: everybody’s getting into the game. Bari Weiss, for example, seems to have abandoned writing on her Substack site and gone to podcasting. The pieces on her site are all written by others. The result: I don’t get the chance to read her, and I don’t listen to her.  And if lots of good writers transition to podcasting, well, the quality of writing will go down.

But I still love Sarah—all Jewish boys do.

The other three videos of Sarah hosting for Kimmel are here, here, and here.

“Problematic” films to be reframed by Turner Classic Movies

March 7, 2021 • 10:00 am

The good news is that although the Pecksniffs at Turner Classic Movies (TCM) have found 18 “problematic”—run when you see that word—movies made between 1920 and 1960, they’re not going to pull them. Rather, as the article from the LA Times below notes, they are going to “reframe them”. That means that they will tell you what parts of the movies are bad in advance. The bad news is that although some of these movies probably should come with a disclaimer, I think they’re overdoing it.

Click on the screenshot to read the article. If it’s paywalled, you can find the same information at other sites by Googling “TCM films”:

The contents:

Turner Classic Movies has decided not to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to timeless but troublesome movies. The result is “Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror,” a new series that kicks off Thursday and runs throughout the month.

Along with screening 18 classics, TCM hosts will discuss what the network calls the “troubling and problematic” aspects of the much-loved flicks, which were released in the 1920s through the 1960s. “The goal is never to censor, but simply provide rich historical context to each classic,” the network said in a statement.

Among the problems: racism, sexism, portrayals of LGBTQ issues and more.

“We’re not saying this is how you should feel about ‘Psycho’ or this is how you should feel about ‘Gone With the Wind.’ We’re just trying to model ways of having longer and deeper conversations and not just cutting it off to ‘I love this movie. I hate this movie.’ There’s so much space in between,” TCM host Jacqueline Stewart recently told the Associated Press.

Stewart and fellow hosts Ben Mankiewicz, Dave Karger, Alicia Malone and Eddie Muller will take turns participating in roundtable introductions that touch on the history and cultural context of the films. They will also prep new viewers about moments they might find upsetting.

“Our job is not to get up and say, ‘Here’s a movie that you should feel guilty about for liking,’” Mankiewicz told the Hollywood Reporter. “But to pretend that the racism in it is not painful and acute? No. I do not want to shy away from that. This was inevitable. And welcomed. And overdue.”

Below are all the movies that will be “Reframed” once a week through the end of this month, beginning each Thursday at 5 p.m. Pacific. This is one situation where it’s good to be a night owl or own a DVR, because the films run one after the other — and even overnight. [see below]

Here’s the video discussing the “problematic” content of the TCM films. Again, the video is quite good at defending the need to show these movies, and why (and it’s not just because we need to come to terms with the moral degradation of the past). I’ll put the list of the movies below, but you can get an idea of many of them from this 6-minute video: “Gone with the Wind,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, “The Jazz Singer”, “Stagecoach”, and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Curiously, three of the movies I recognize, “Rebel Without a Cause”, “No Way Out”, and “Lolita”, aren’t being shown by TCM, or at least aren’t on the list, but do appear in the video, implying that they need to be “reframed”. Perhaps that’s coming when they’re shown in the future.

Well, you know, I don’t have huge objections to this “framing”, but it still irks me a bit, and I’m not sure why. I recognize that there should be guidelines or content warnings, like “Note: racism, blackface, men hitting women, Native American being aggressive,” and so on. But beyond that, do we really need someone to tell us, and in detail, exactly why the movies are problematic? Why not put the discussions online so people can read them if they want to? Will there be any dissent among the discussants? I doubt it: they must convey a unified moral message.

I guess it seems a bit patronizing to me to have other people tell me why the movies are considered offensive.  The racism in the Sidney Poitier movie shown in the video above (“No Way Out,” curiously absent from the list given) is clearly meant to be an offensive display of bigotry, and do we really need to say, “When that guy spits in Poitier’s face, it’s racist”? The movie was intended to show racism in a negative light. That’s different from the “acceptable” racism in movies like “The Jazz Singer”.

Here’s the list of problematic movies; groups of them will be shown on a given night.  If you’ve seen some of these movies, you might want to guess what is “problematic” about them. I’ve put asterisks next to the ones I’ve guessed, and question marks next to ones that I’ve seen but can’t guess what’s problematic about them (granted, I haven’t seen some of these in years, and, given what I know about the Zeitgeist, I’m sure I could spot the bad bits upon rewatching).

March 4

  • “Gone With the Wind” *
  • “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” ?
  • “Rope”
  • “The Four Feathers”

March 11

  • “Woman of the Year” ?
  • “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” *
  • “Gunga Din” *
  • “Sinbad, the Sailor”
  • “The Jazz Singer” *

March 18

  • “The Searchers”
  • “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” [I read what is problematic; otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to guess]
  • “Swing Time”
  • “Stagecoach” [Ditto for Breakfast at Tiffay’s]
  • “Tarzan, the Ape Man” ?

March 25

  • “My Fair Lady” ?
  • “The Children’s Hour”
  • “Psycho” ?
  • “Dragon Seed”

And a note about other problematic films and television shows Entertainment:

Other networks and streamers are also finding ways to address these issues within their respective libraries. In June, HBO Max pulled Gone with the Wind in response to criticism from 12 Years a Slave director John Ridley who said the multiple Academy Award-winning film “glorifies the antebellum south.” It was re-released that same month with a new introduction.

The recent debut of The Muppet Show on Disney+ also arrived with warnings on nearly two dozen episodes due to “negative depictions.”

TV shows are receiving the same treatment, multiple episodes of popular shows like The Golden GirlsThe Office, and30 Rockwere either edited or pulled completely.

Does anyone have any objections to what Turner is doing? Do you think the films need “framing” via a seemingly extensive discussion? If not, is there a better way to single out what’s “problematic”?